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National Plan for Tillage Sector Needed

To save the tillage industry, a united approach by all parties with a vested interest in Irish agriculture, from producer to final consumer, needs to be adopted. That was the clear message from Michael Hoey, tillage farmer and owner of Country Crest, Dublin, as he addressed the Teagasc National Tillage Conference which is taking place in Carlow today Thursday, 28 January.

Michael Hoey pointed out to the 500 tillage farmers attending, that what is required in the tillage industry is a national plan. He said:” The plan should incorporate all aspects in the chain from research and development, production, marketers, and should meet the demands of the market. It must aim to develop and grow sustainable added value markets for what farmers produce, whether for food or energy and must learn from the mistakes that have been made, most notably the Irish sugar industry. The plan requires long-term vision, mindful of the need to be a productive plan rather than relying on quota and grants.”

In a thought provoking address to the conference he said: “Agriculture has always been the backbone of the Irish economy and by developing a national plan that creates sustainable, green, real jobs it can lead Ireland to a stronger economy.”

Difficult Cereal Market

Markets are now fairly certain that more than enough wheat and barley is available for the remainder of this season, according to Heike Hintze-Gharres from the Home Grown Cereals Association in the UK. She pointed out that the realisation that wheat and barley markets are facing another season of surplus saw prices plummeting in summer and early autumn 2009, however, since then prices have generally been firmer. Long term, price prospects improve as population and demand growth raises questions if the world will be able to raise production adequately. In the US, which is one the world’s main wheat producers and exporters, winter wheat plantings have reportedly fallen to their lowest level since 1913.

Faced with lower margins from cereal production, Teagasc tillage specialist, Michael Hennessy said that economic survival for tillage farmers with low margins necessitates scale to generate sufficient income. He said:“Share farming offers land access where scale can be achieved at a sustainable level. Share farming can also offer the advantages of longer term lease without the fixed payments and similar flexibility of conacre, while sharing some of the risks. Both the share farmer and the landowner benefit from increased scale through increased buying and selling power.”

Septoria Resistance

In wheat crops in 2008/09, researchers at Oak Park crops research centre discovered that strains of the cereal disease Septoria were less sensitive to triazole fungicides, Opus and Proline than any detected previously. Dr Eugene O Sullivan said that these Septoria isolates belong to a new genetic strain of the pathogen not previously found in Ireland. John Spink from Teagasc told the conference that the frequency of new strains of Septoria observed in two field locations, appeared to affect field performance in terms of immediate disease control and persistence of disease control. However, he advised that good levels of field control can be achieved by careful alteration of triazole active ingredients applied with another product active against Septoria or by the use of triazole mixes, again with an appropriate mix partner.

Challenges of the Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive will have significant implications for the tillage sector. Colin Byrne, from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government told the conference that the control of phosphorous and nitrogen losses to surface waters and groundwater, to ensure that water quality standards are not breeched, is particularly challenging in some areas due to local soil and hydrogeological conditions.

He pointed out that the national monitoring programme by the EPA has indicated a number of patterns of concern. Elevated nitrate concentrations have been consistently observed in the east and south east of the country in both groundwater and surface waters. The presence of intensive agricultural practices on free-draining soils in the southeast suggests that diffuse agricultural sources are the cause of elevated nitrate concentrations. A positive correlation between nitrate levels and the proportions of ploughed land in their catchments has been shown for the rivers in the south east. The estuaries of the south east and south of the country such as the Slaney, Blackwater and Bandon were found to be the most seriously eutrophic.